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Liberty’s blight plight



Published: Sat, March 24, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

Township lacks funds for demolition

By Robert Guttersohn

rguttersohn@vindy.com

Liberty

Residents remember when Northgate Apartments drew an affluent clientele to the southern portion of the township that borders Youngstown.

“They were beautiful apartments,” said Jim Rodway, township zoning administrator.

But today, the five orange-bricked apartments that line Colonial and Northgate drives sit mostly empty. Rodway said only one person legally lives in all five units. The rest of the units are vacant, stripped and open to squatters.

After years of disrepair and zoning citations, Rodway announced at the March 12 trustee meeting that he and an inspector with the Trumbull County Health Department had requested that the health department to deem the five units — 212, 214 and 216 Colonial Drive and 3010 and 3012 Northgate — labeled as unfit for human habitation at its April 18 meeting.

The Vindicator’s attempts to reach the apartments’ owner, Colonial Group Apartments, on Friday were unsuccessful

But even if the county health board makes the designation, township officials say they have no money to raze the structures.

“We’re not like a city,” said township Administrator Pat Ungaro. “We don’t get [federal] block grant money.”

When he was mayor of Youngstown, Ungaro received up to $7 million a year in block grants, which he used to buy up abandoned mills and commercial properties after the decline in steel production.

“Townships don’t get that,” he said.

So the apartments sit vacant until people sometimes take matters into their own hands such as the Liberty Square apartments, which are commonly referred to as Naylor Lloyd apartments for the road on which they sit in the township’s northern portion.

Someone set fire to two of the five vacant and stripped units within an eight-day period in November. The state fire marshal deemed the fires arson.

Another apartment at 3006 Green Acres Drive, which is only feet away from the Northgate apartments, caught fire twice in a 12-hour span until it burned to the ground March 5. That apartment was not condemned and had three tenants, Fire Chief Michael Durkin said at the time.

Like Northgate Apartments, Liberty Square was once a thriving set of apartments that fell into disrepair. Five years ago, the county deemed them unfit for human habitation, but the township couldn’t afford to raze them.

Ungaro said it would have cost $50,000 per unit just for the required asbestos removal.

And the township found out the apartments were not eligible for the The Neighborhood Stabilization Program, a series of federal grants for demolishing or rehabilitating dilapidated structures, because they were not considered to be in a high-risk area.

The Northgate units, if condemned, are considered in a high-risk area, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but a spokeswoman from the Trumbull County Planning Commission said there are no plans for another round of NSP grants this year.

If there were, the competition for them would be steep, Ungaro said.

“The cities, they have major demolition problems in neighborhoods,” Ungaro said. “If there is money available, that’s often where it goes — where the problem is overwhelming. They have significant issues.”

In February, Ohio received $75 million after the federal government announced a $25 billion settlement with five banks involved in foreclosure fraud across the country.

According to the county planning commission, some of that money will be earmarked for demolition projects, and Trustee Jodi Stoyak is hoping Liberty will get a piece of that money.

“I jumped all over that,” she said, adding that she has been writing letters and making phone calls to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office in hopes that Liberty will get a funding share.

Until then, if the county’s health department condemns the Northgate units, Rodway plans to sit down with Liberty’s law director to determine what action the township can take on them.


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